For their proponents, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) offer improved crop productivity, food security and quality of life, as well as increased income to resource-poor farmers.
“We are importing GMO food and yet we say we are not ready to introduce them here; are we not hypocrites?” said Dr. Ibrahim Atokple, a former breeder at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI) which is readying to introduce the BT Cowpea.
But for those against it, such as Food Sovereignty Ghana – a grassroots movement dedicated to the promotion of food sovereignty, the facts that 40 percent food harvested is left to waste due to poor roads and only three percent of the country’s arable land is under cultivation means Ghana cannot and should not go down the GMO road.
Food Sovereignty, which has been campaigning against the introduction of genetically modified foods, also believes that going GMO will be an upside-down approach to solving the problems confronting food production in the country.
To the group, critical issues like lack of credit to farmers, lack of post-harvest infrastructure like drying-machines, and overreliance on rain-fed agriculture are more cardinal to the sector’s fortunes than adopting GMOs.
“If you look at Ghana and Africa at large, the problems facing agriculture are those I have mentioned. So if you have to make a strategic decision whereby you have to pick your low-hanging fruit and solve the solvable problems, GMOs won’t be one,” says Edwin Baffour, Communication Director at Food Sovereignty Ghana.
The future of the planet, according to him, also requires that “we must preserve our biodiversity rather than going for uniformity in species”.
Per global demand trends, the organic food and beverage industry’s value is growing in leaps and bounds. Its global market size is expected to reach US$320.5billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc.
Growing popularity of non-GMO products among consumers, owing to the health benefits associated with their consumption, is expected to drive demand over the forecast period. This, Mr. Baffour told the B&FT, is an opportunity that the country simply can’t ignore if it is to use agriculture as the catalyst for economic growth as touted by several governments.
He added that: “Demand for organic products all around also means the country cannot afford to lose out in this huge potential by introducing GMOs. There is a preference for organic products, and consumers are even willing to pay a premium for food products that are assured to be organic.
“What we are saying is that since Ghana is situated in the tropics with about 60 percent of its population involved in agriculture, if you are to take a strategic decision for powering our development, it must be agriculture. And if we want to use agriculture to spur our development, then we must start looking at the global consumption trend.”
For GMOs, the global crop industry was valued at US$18.15billion in 2018, and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 8.7 percent over the forecast period (2019-2027) in terms of revenue. The growth is expected to be driven by increased demand for food.
To Dr. Atokple, whether the country allows GMOs or not, Ghanaians are already consuming GM foods every day through imported products. He said products like soyabean oil is obtained from genetically modified soyabeans; while the vast majority of meat, including chicken, pork among others, imported into the country are fed with GM feed.
“If you are using soyabean oil for several years and you have not died, what justification do you have to say to BT Cowpea will kill you?” he quizzes.
On why there has been strong resistance to the introduction of GMOs in Ghana, he said part of the opposition is due to misconception and lack of information. “There is no scientific basis for their argument. We should not be debating this because they are exposing their ignorance.”
Meanwhile, for Mr. Baffour two wrongs do not make a right. “Ghana has very weak regulations and enforcement; so regarding the issue of GMOs coming in, it isn’t proper for us to start growing them within our boundaries.”
Whereas Dr. Atokple says those against GMOs are simply justifying why they should continue to receive funding from their foreign sponsors, the anti-GMOs believe local proponents are under the malign influence of multinational seed companies to promote GMOs.
“What SARI is introducing is patented and is not hybrid, which means it does not require the farmer to buy from the breeder every season. We are a public institution, and the moment a seed is released by us it is free. It goes through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture before getting to the farmers,” concluded Dr. Atokple, who is currently working as a consultant with SARI.